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How many types of wine are there in Rioja?

Although there are those who stand at the bar and ask for "a Rioja", without further specification, the truth is that in this prestigious D.O., the wine diversity contradicts the generalization that to this very day Rioja wines are subjected to. There are many consumers who perceive "Rioja" as a generic red wine subjected to prolonged aging in barrels, with the usual characteristics offered by Tempranillo wines subjected to traditional winemaking and oak aging. It is a harmonious and elegant expression, with a good balance between the fruity and the spicy toasted nuances provided by the wood.

 

 

But Rioja is not only Tempranillo. Barrel aging is not a common denominator for all the wines of this region. Not even the Rioja is exclusively red: the multiple types of wines produced in the D.O. enrich the wine scene of this land as much as the diversity of styles, categories, and terroirs.

 

The diversity of Rioja wines contradicts the perception of this region as a territory monopolized by Tempranillo reds.

Quality whites, rosés, reds... and sparkling wines in Rioja

So, before ordering "a Rioja", it is important to know that the range of Rioja wines is decidedly wide, and includes not only reds made from different grape varieties, subjected to shorter or longer aging processes. Rioja wines can also be white, rosé, sweet, semisweet... Even sparkling.

 

This is contemplated in the regulations of the Regulatory Council of the Denomination of Origin, which authorizes the use of 14 varieties, distinguishing their use based on the different types. For red and rosé wines, the grapes allowed are Tempranillo (the majority in the region, occupying 80% of the vineyard surface), red Grenache, Graciano, Mazuelo, and red Maturana.

 

Rioja whites are made from Viura (the most widespread, accounting for 70% of the white varieties), Malvasía, Grenache Blanc, Tempranillo Blanco, Maturana Blanca, Turruntés, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Verdejo. Both whites as well as rosés and reds admit sweet and semi-sweet wines in their category.

 

Special mention should be made of sparkling wines, which the D.O. has recently decided to incorporate into its regulations, indicating that they must be made using the traditional method and with limited sugar content (Brut, Extra Brut, and Brut Nature). These new Rioja Quality Sparkling Wines are obtained from the aforementioned varieties and, in the case of the rosés, must include 25% red grapes. A great example of these striking Riojan bubbles is Lumen Brut Reserva 2018, Blanc de Noirs made from 100% red Grenache.

 

Type, origin, and aging argue for the categorization of whites, rosés, reds, and sparkling wines under the Rioja Qualified Designation of Origin (D.O.).

Classification of Rioja wines according to their origin

For still wines (white, rosé, and red), the Regulatory Council of the Rioja D.O. establishes different categories, determined by two criteria: origin and aging. The distinction of wines according to their origin is also a novelty in the official regulations of the D.O. and is intended to highlight the uniqueness of the vineyard of origin, recognize its diversity, and establish qualitative requirements that guarantee quality. So, Rioja currently provides three indications of origin

 

Sub-regional wines

The territory of the D.O. is divided into three “sub-regions”, also called “zones”: Rioja Alavesa, Rioja Alta, and Rioja Oriental (previously called Rioja Baja). 

 

Municipal wines

The name of the municipality may be mentioned on the label, a significant detail in a region with very diverse terroirs.

 

Singular Vineyard

This is the great novelty in the categorization of Rioja wine and distinguishes the cuvées, whose exceptional quality is directly related to their origin, a site, or vineyard with highly differentiated characteristics, in terms of terroir and agricultural practices. 

For example, the wines of Bodegas Bilbaínas come from the Rioja Alta sub-region, mainly from two specific municipalities, Haro and Villalba de Rioja. The renewed Viña Zaco is the prime example of how this company can reach the market with the qualification of Viñedo Singular.

 

The aging of Rioja wines

The other criterion that underlies the wine categories in this prestigious denomination is aging, a condition that has traditionally defined wine production in this region and which currently includes four categories: 

 

Generic

Although it includes the youngest wines (first and second year), it also includes others that do not fit into the rest of the categories, even if they have been aged in oak for more or less extensive periods. The initiative of winemakers and winegrowers who prefer to make their wines in a "freer" way, without following the traditional rules of aging in Rioja, is contributing to the incorporation of more and more interesting wines into this category.

15 Bodegas, in fact, offers several wines that belong to this category. For example, the Viña Pomal Blanco 2020, is found among those in the more youthful group; others, like the Viña Pomal Rosé, represent the lineage of the most exceptional wines of the D.O., whose winemaking processes do not fall into the traditional classification.  

 

Crianza

Crianza red wines from Rioja are those that have been aged for a minimum of 12 months in oak barrels. In the case of whites and rosés, this requirement is reduced to 6 months. Viña Pomal Crianza 2018 is one of the most award-winning Rioja reds in this category, where we also find Ederra Crianza 2017.

 

Reserva

In this category, red wines must be aged in oak barrels for at least 12 months, complemented by another 6 months in the bottle. The aging period for Reserva whites and rosés is 24 months, at least 6 of which must be spent in barrels.

Within the product range offered by Bodegas Bilbaínas, Viña Pomal Reserva 2015 responds to this category’s most classical profile, while La Vicalanda Reserva 2015has the most expressive profile of the new Riojas. Among the whites Viña Pomal Tempranillo Blanco Reserva 2015, of the Vinos Singulares collection, is distinguished by offering prominence to a very minority variety in the region

 

Gran Reserva

Traditionally, the best Rioja wines from exceptional vintages are destined for Gran Reserva, which requires aging for 60 months, comprising a minimum of 24 months in barrels and an additional 24 months in bottles. For whites and rosés, the regulations stipulate a total aging of at least 4 years, with 6 months in barrels.

The archetype of these great Rioja wines, according to the most traditional model, is Viña Pomal Gran Reserva 2012, as opposed to the La Vicalanda Gran Reserva 2015, which fits the profile of the so-called "high expression wines".

It is worth noting that the diversity of Rioja wines goes far beyond the categorization we have detailed, because the many nuances, styles, and unique features of the wines of this region don’t necessarily fit the rigor of an official classification. They are probably an intangible value, but undoubtedly a determining factor in the greatness of Rioja wines.

 

Do you like Rioja wines?  In 15 Bodegas you have several wines to delve into this prestigious Qualified Designation of Origin.